How to Upskill Your Employees

What to Do When Elevating Employee Skill Sets Is Critical

Employee training in digital tablet

Getty Images/FG Trade

Upskilling employees can be critical to the future of work—not just for employers who will need to train employees in new and different approaches and technologies, but for their workers who are eager to learn, adapt, and continue playing a valuable role. 

If your organization values your employees, you need to believe that upskilling—teaching employees additional skills or training them in the same occupation in a new way—can be crucial, for example, when the threat of automation looms over their job roles. In fact, according to a McKinsey study, 40% of U.S. jobs currently in the largest occupational categories, from office support and retail to food and customer service, are expected to shrink due to automation between now and 2030. 

A More Urgent Need to Upskill

The need to upskill employees has also been exacerbated in 2020. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs 2020 Report,” in this newly constrained, recession-impacted labor market, for the workers who are set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need upskilling or reskilling. 

The skills of the workforce have been a growing concern for years, so much so that 79% of global CEOs are concerned that their employees’ lack of essential skills is threatening the future growth of their organizations. 

Technology demands new and higher-level skills from employees, including more critical thinking and creativity. The skills employees need in fast-growing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are continuously evolving, and the old-school model of front-loading training early on in an employee’s career has given way to the need for a system of continuous learning.

Employers can look into fostering a learning organization environment to enhance the skills of employees.

Benefits of Upskilling Your Employees

There are benefits to investing resources into upskilling employees and preparing them for these new and evolving job roles.          

Cost Savings 

The process of hiring new workers, which includes recruitment and advertising, can cost significantly more ($4,425) than upskilling current employees (approximately $1,300) and it may take several years before new employees are as comfortable doing their jobs. 

Drives Employee Growth and Value

According to a survey of full-time employees conducted by business consulting firm Clutch, 84% think their company should be very or somewhat involved in helping them build skills to complete their job skills successfully. This overwhelming response could, again, be driven by a sense of urgency in upgrading their skill sets. For example, in a separate study, fellow business consultant West Monroe found that 60% of employees believe that their current skill set will actually become outdated in the next three to five years. By investing in upskilling resources, you are demonstrating that you value your current employees and are willing and able to provide them with opportunities for career growth, which can be critical to retention, loyalty, and motivation. 

It is incumbent upon employers to continuously educate employees and improve their skills in evolving technologies. There are tangible benefits: Businesses remain open, continue providing valuable services or products, and keep people employed.

How to Upskill Your Workforce

Upskilling your employees can be a critical need for years to come. The following is a step-by-step guide for how to approach upskilling your workforce.

Make an Overall Organization Plan

Upskilling employees may not work if you approach the process in a haphazard manner. Start with an organization-wide plan that identifies:

  • The skills your current workforce already has
  • The crucial skills they lack
  • The employees who have the capability to upskill or retrain in new approaches or technology
  • The methods you will use for training
  • What will happen to employees who either don’t have the capacity to upskill or do not make the leap during training
  • The HR and management systems that must be in place to achieve your desired outcomes, such as a plan for how to hire resilient, change-ready, technology-oriented employees

You will likely need to involve your department heads, your senior team, your HR staff, and possibly other employees in devising this plan. Remember, employees who are involved or consulted when you make decisions about their jobs and careers are more likely to support the system you design.

Identify Where Upskilling Is Needed Most

Working with your department heads and their teams, identify the roles that most likely need to adapt to new technology in the near future. Take into consideration the economic, technological, and social implications during this process. 

In addition, take stock of what the organizations in your industry may need in the future. For example, companies may be seeking employees who are skilled in new technology such as robotic process automation, materials science, or simulations with machine learning that can predict outcomes and streamline processes. They may also need employees who have mastered soft skills, such as managing teams effectively and applying emotional intelligence.

After identifying positional upskilling needs, work with your assembled team to formalize a plan for how to provide the training needed to your employees.

Choose Your Employee Training Method(s)

There are several training options to consider as you create your upskilling plan. Some of these include: 

  • Training classes, either internally with experienced consultants, or external opportunities including college classes and seminars
  • Mentoring and coaching by managers who are experienced in the skills needed
  • Hands-on training opportunities with skilled colleagues, which can also be effective to transfer skills
  • Learning opportunities such as online training, which has become more optimal in the era of remote work, and will likely continue to be a valuable teaching method moving forward.

Provide a Support System for Employees 

As employees learn new technologies and adapt to changing workplace practices during their upskilling training, it’s important that employers provide a support system to help alleviate any fears or doubts their workers may have. A support system’s components include: 

  • Fostering conversations with colleagues who are learning the new skills together
  • Periodic check-ins from HR professionals to see how the employee is doing
  • Professional and well-planned onboarding when the employee completes upskilling training
  • Effective management, performance feedback, and offering appropriate rewards and recognition following the transition

The Bottom Line

The importance of upskilling the skills of your current employees cannot be overemphasized if you want to ensure the success of your business. If your employees have faith and trust in your commitment to keep their skills relevant and applicable within your business, you can improve your chances of retaining them and nurturing their commitment to you and your company.